Nourishing Stewardship

Building a Natural Cloth Diaper Stash

Crawling baby with pacifier and wearing cloth diaper

We’re a cloth diaper family. And proudly, might I add.

We’ve been using cloth diapers since day four, technically. Paisley came home from the hospital with a small stash of disposable so we used those up before digging into our cloth diaper stash.

Excepting a few vacations, our kids have only ever worn cloth. We even used them in the hospital with Colm and plan to for Baby Rystedt v3, so we’re in this cloth thing pretty deep, I’d say.

Now that we’ve been using cloth for over two and a half years, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two. Like how to button four snaps onto a squirming toddler, for example.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from our cloth journey – which is obviously faaaar from over – is the difference between different diaper types. Today we’re going to talk about some of the major differences in diapering materials and how building a natural stash might be the very best option for your wallet and, of course, your baby’s bottom.

Our First Stash

When I started on our cloth diapering journey, I didn’t know anyone in real life who exclusively used cloth diapers. A lot of moms had told me that they sometimes use cloth, which is a perfectly acceptable way to approach the practice and totally works for some families. But what I wanted to understand was how to use cloth diapers all the time: day, night, on day trips, etc.

The Internet was my go-to, because there’s a lot of information about cloth diapering available from different diaper shops and natural parenting blogs. Even so, the amount of information I found was overwhelming, to say the least.

While cloth diapering is hardly overwhelming in the day to day once you’ve established a routine, going into it with no knowledge beforehand can be a bit daunting. You have to consider which types of diapers you want, how many, what materials, cuts, fits and sizes to use.

Many of the blogs that I visited advised that we start with a mixture of different diaper types to get a feel for what fits best on our baby, which closure style we liked best and which diapers held up best to our baby’s particular potty needs.

This is really good advice, and is something that I highly recommend if you’re completely new to the world of cloth diapers and don’t have your baby sitting in front of you currently. Not knowing your baby’s shape or pooping habits can make it difficult to imagine what diapers will work best for you – even though you might have an idea of ones that you’d really, really like to use.

I decided to try a few different brands, but somehow ended up with a bunch of pocket diapers that were pretty much all the same. Pocket diapers are very popular, so it’s understandable that in my naivete that’s pretty much all I started with.

Pocket diapers are pretty standard, as far as shape and function is concerned. They’re designed with an adjustable shell that has a pocket for putting in inserts to capture messes and, well, do the thing that diapers are intended to do.

What I didn’t know was that most pocket diapers come standard with microfiber inserts and microsuede or microfleece barriers lining the top of the pocket (aka the part that is directly against the baby’s skin) to prevent irritation while baby wears and uses the diaper.

Microfiber is very popular when it comes to cloth diapering. For one, it’s cheap. For another, it absorbs a lot of stuff, so you don’t have to change every hour or two, lest your baby leak out the sides.

Our first stash was microfiber, and I loved it. That is, until I hated it.

You see, microfiber comes with an expiration date. And you’ll likely not notice it when the edges start to fray or the fabric develops holes. No, microfiber “expires” when it no longer releases its nasty stenches – and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Have you ever had a fleece pullover that you left in the washer wet for a little too long? Did it get a nasty sour smell that, for the life of you, you could simply never get out? (If this didn’t happen to you sometime between 2000 and 2011, I’m insanely jealous.)

As it turns out, microfiber diaper inserts and the microsuede/fleece liners do this very thing. Except it’s not sour washer smell. It’s dookie.

All of our diapers turned to the poop side roughly one month before my due date with Colm. And I mean ALL of them. Typically, parents get a lot more than a year and a half out of their microfiber diapers, and only the most worn ones will turn, if any ever do. But my kids are what the cloth community refers to as “heavy wetters” and we use a minimalist stash, so we were unknowingly on the fast track to microfiber diaper hell.

Our Second Stash

When our first stash crashed and burned, I was in the midst of my merciless nesting purging rage (that’s what being eight months pregnant in August does to a woman), so I chucked those bad boys into the trash faster than you could say “but they’re going to the landfill”. Nope. Don’t care. Done.

I even discussed the odor issue in a cloth diaper group that I was part of while I was still on Facebook and another mom tried to shame me about tossing them because “there’s surely some other use, like using it as a cleaning rag”. No, Lady. They SMELL LIKE POOP. How could anyone clean their house with irrevocably poop stenched old diapers? I don’t know. I’m not that kind of cloth diapering mom. Sue me.

Anyway, now we were down to maybe four or five diapers and we had a second child who was pretty much fully cooked at this point. So I sat down and re-scoured all of the cloth diaper resources looking for something that would be a better solution for our kids and not cost a ton of money, since now I had to basically purchase a double stash. I also noticed that the only remaining diapers left over from our first stash were some cotton prefolds (basically a cotton rectangle) that didn’t hang onto the odors the way our microfiber diapers had.

I knew for a while that I’d like to make the switch to a more natural stash, but the cost seemed prohibitive. When you’re comparing an organic cotton all-in-one (complete diaper that requires no assembly; closest cloth equivalent to the convenience of a disposable diaper) to a microfiber one, the cost difference is dramatic.

But when you’re comparing the cost of cotton prefolds and flats (basically another cotton rectangle that is origamied into myriad shapes for butt fittage) to any kind of pre-assembled diaper, including microfiber pockets, the cost is significantly less.

Prefolds and flats do take more work than AIOs, pockets and other pre-assembled diapers however, but they’re also much more customizable. That aspect was appealing to me, because I have very narrow kids who pee a lot. My babies are not a very standard type, so it’s not something that diaper manufacturers account for when developing their pre-assembled diapers. As a result, it was difficult for me to get a good fit for Paisley (and then Colm), so finding something that I could control a little more was a win-win.

Cotton diapers are a lot easier to clean than their microfiber cousins. They don’t hang onto the nasty smells, and they wash easily in detergent and water. They also last forever. We still have some prefolds from Paisley’s early days; they’re a bit threadbare and have some wear spots, but they’re completely functional.

Without much hesitation, I purchased a mixture of cotton and hemp (another great natural option, though more pricey than cotton) prefolds and flats for Paisley and Colm to share. I also purchased quite a few diaper covers, which do the dirty work of containing wetness to the inside of the diapers.

Now, when it comes to inserts, finding natural options isn’t hard or expensive. But as you might expect, natural fibers are not at all water repellant. So covering them is a necessity, unless you like having baby pee on your carpets, couches, etc.

The only real option when it comes to natural cloth diaper covers that work is wool. Wool is magical. I could wax on about wool for probably a few hours, but for the sake of maintaining your interest, I’ll suffice to say that when it comes to diapering, wool not only absorbs messes, but it repels them as well.

When wool diaper covers are properly treated, they provide a nearly bulletproof – well, pee-proof – solution for diapering your baby. Wool covers are particularly useful for nighttime diapering.

Wool covers are also expensive… Like really expensive. Most covers run in the range of $60 a pop, and they’re sized, meaning that they have to constantly be replaced as your baby grows. With four to five average sizes and an average rotation of three or four nighttime covers, that puts the bill at well over $1,000 – for nighttime diaper covers alone.

Then, if you’re like me and want to go all natural all the time (wool can be used during the day because it both insulates and cools – magic, I tell you!), you’ll need at least 10-12 covers per size, which puts your total diaper cover investment somewhere around $3,500.

Now, wool does last basically forever, and unless you have twins, it’s unlikely that any two of your babies will ever be in the same size at the same time. So having multiple kids over the span of a few years will absolutely help you to get your money’s worth from the wool diaper covers.

But most cloth diapering families that I know simply don’t have that kind money to shell out initially for diaper covers alone. Actually, most cloth diapering parents are in it to save money, so…

Needless to say, my kids are not currently in wool diaper covers. It’s a goal of mine to get them there, and with some creative work and time (of which I have none), I can actually make them a wool diaper cover stash for a fraction of the cost of a purchased one.

Again, this is a goal, but I don’t think Colm will be the lucky recipient of a wholly natural cloth diaper stash. That’s why we just keep on having more babies. Heh heh.

Son in diaper

Starting a Natural Cloth Diaper Stash

Okay, this post is about starting a natural cloth diaper stash, and now we’re going to look at some practical ways to do that. Now that you know how we got to our natural stash and where I plan to go for a fully natural stash, let’s look at ways that you can build a natural cloth diaper stash of your own.

If you’re looking for the very cheapest option, and one that’s still great for your baby (natural fibers against skin is a huge win when it comes to baby comfort), then your best bet is to go with cotton and/or hemp prefolds and flats and standard PUL diaper covers.

You can find these at any diaper shop, and the configurations that you can develop will get your baby from birth to potty training, including diapering at night – which scares off a lot of new cloth moms. For our kids’ nighttime diapers, we use a kite folded hemp flat with one or two cotton flats pad folded inside (check out some easy tutorials, if you’re interested), stuff them inside of a cover and they’re good to go. We’ve never had a leak by using this method and our kids sure can sleep!

Total cost for el cheapo natural route, one baby: $200-$400

If you’re looking for a middling route, expense-wise, consider using AIOs, pocket and other pre-assembled diapers of whatever sort speak to you in cotton. You’ll shell out a little more money initially, but you’re also not going to pull your whole cheap microfiber stash out of the wash one day and have to throw it into the trashcan. So. Decisions.

Total cost for the middle of the road natural diapering option, one baby: $300-$1,000 – this is highly dependent on brand and how large of a stash you want

If money is no factor and you’ve got everything you need to give your baby the cadillac natural cloth diapering experience, then consider learning the ins and outs of diapering with wool, and invest in cotton and hemp prefolds, flats and fitteds, as well as wool covers for day and night. This is the most natural route, and you could theoretically get your baby from birth to potty training without ever employing plastic anything as a butt shield. If you do this, you are my hero.

Total cost for the full natural experience for one baby, or many babies (not including multiples): upward of $4,000

Of course, if you’re particularly crafty or thrifty, there are certainly ways to work around some of the expenses associated with the completely natural route. But I think that’s info for another post.

Have you considered using natural cloth diapers? What’s holding you back? Leave any questions, comments or concerns in a comment below, and I’ll be happy to chat! Or let me know how your own cloth diapering journey is going, regardless of your stash status!

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?